Womanhood by the Book
As a 30-something, married mom of four, I am no longer a girl. But the word "woman" is a weighty term I'm not sure I qualify for.
To me, woman designates someone of enormous and quiet strength, bearing the weight of her world with grace and a smile. Hardworking, savvy, and smart, yet kind, nurturing, and warm. Much of this image comes from my own mother, of course, but a large part of it also comes from the pop culture I grew up with.
Our popular definition and image of womanhood bends and stretches to encompass new realities and lifestyles as times change. Women are caring for aging parents and young children. They are entering ministry and moving their families to further burgeoning careers. They are keeping house and earning paychecks and feeling torn in different directions by all of it. They're struggling (like I am) to understand how they measure up against the generations before and the representation of womanhood they internalized over the years.
These new realities have created a publishing trend for authors and editors to attempt to capture the essence of femaleness and market it for mass consumption. Blogs and books present vignettes of the "every woman," draw battle lines in an attempt to force identity (think "mommy wars"), or debate the modern woman's role within the strictures of the church.
For instance, three recently released books—Jesus Feminist, Talking Taboo, and the Book of Jezebel—present womanhood from strikingly different perspectives, demonstrating that there are as many definitions of contemporary womanhood as there are attempts to neatly categorize the female experience.
Jesus Feminist addresses the role of women within the church, answering with an emphatic "yes" the question of whether women have a worth and a calling all their own, both separate from and equal to that of men. Author Sarah Bessey weaves stories from her life around the stories of others, binding the female experience into a shared narrative. Instead of widening the divide between women of various theologies, she gives worth to each viewpoint, but never ceases her call to break gender barriers within the Christian culture.
Talking Taboo exposes issues important to women that the church would rather leave untouched. Similar to Bessey, editors Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro piece together vignettes from women's lives. In these vignettes, it becomes clear that there is no typical female experience. Yet, the hopes, dreams, victories, and injustices articulated by the book's contributors do have a common thread: They all long for the freedom to live fully in the roles to which they feel called.
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